Usually it’s the pain of a broken heart that inspires artists to plumb their emotional depths. On Old Fashioned Gal, songwriter and vocalist Kat Edmonson makes a case for a bitter winter cold being the ticket to tapping into some seriously cool soulful genius. The result is a glorious throwback to the music of Hollywood’s Golden Age with originals that are all at once heartbreaking and uplifting, quirky and witty yet penetrating and ultimately profound.
Battling illness while holed up in her Brooklyn apartment, the singer – whose crystalline perfect cabaret style voice flows like the love child of Blossom Dearie and Kristin Chenoweth - binged on Turner Classic Movies for days, penning tunes after each flick that moved her. As the collection came together, a unique narrative started to emerge of a young woman in showbiz battling her demons and doubts. It’s a theme perfectly captured in the dreamy, lushly orchestrated opener “Sparkle and Shine,” whose lyrics about how “stars in your eyes and a dream in your heart” can overcome the critics who “stand in line to doubt you” double as the singer’s artistic mission statement.
As the collection breezes on, Edmonson’s artful balance of vocal nuance and dramatic theatricality may make the listener feel they’ve entered into a vintage stage musical. The eclectic show includes classic doo-wop (“I’d Be a Fool”), a wistful acoustic stroll through Hawaii (“If”) and a look in the door of a New Orleans speakeasy (“With You,” which features a Louis Armstrong-esque trumpet solo by Jon-Erik Kellso). “Canoe” is a joyful, poetically clever romp through nature featuring Matt Ray’s simmering organ, ambient sounds of insects and frogs and the singer credited as the “mosquito.” The emotional core of the set comes from two unadorned piano and vocal songs - “Old Fashioned Gal,” a whimsical look at modern times, and “A Voice,” which poignantly reflects the way singing is true liberation in a world of conformity. Old Fashioned Gal is not only charming but also the most provocative musical time travel experience imaginable.